Weill Cornell Researcher Wins Prestigious Award Supporting Epigenomic Study
Dr. Olivier Elemento, an assistant professor in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics and an assistant professor of computational genomics in the Institute for Computational Biomedicine at Weill Cornell Medical College, recently received the National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Award.
|Dr. Olivier Elemento, an assistant professor in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics and an assistant professor of computational genomics in the Institute for Computational Biomedicine at Weill Cornell|
The most prestigious award bestowed by the National Science Foundation, it honors junior faculty who exemplify excellence as teacher-scholars through research, education and the integration of education and research.
The award will support Dr. Elemento's research to develop novel computational methodologies to better understand how the epigenome regulates genes expression in normal and malignant cells through a five-year $1.5 million grant, effective May 1.
"It's really one of the most prestigious awards the National Science Foundation gives, so it's obviously great to be awarded this grant," said Dr. Elemento.
This is the second time in four years that a researcher in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics garnered the Foundation’s Faculty Early Career Development Award. Dr. Scott Blanchard, associate professor of physiology and biophysics, received the honor in 2008 for his groundbreaking work in cell biology, focusing specifically on the ribosome, the complex molecular machine responsible for translating DNA-encoded instructions into usable proteins.
Dr. Elemento and his lab are engaged in a large scale effort to better understand how the epigenome, which controls the differential expression of genes in specific cells by learning how the combined effects of modifications to chromatin, the combination of DNA and proteins that comprise the nucleus of a cell, together with chromatin folding, which brings chromatin regions that are normally far away from each other on a chromosome close to each other, influence gene expression in malignant and normal cells. Because the epigenome is known to be massively reprogrammed in cancer cells, the knowledge gained from this research should ultimately lead to more targeted therapeutic strategies in the treatment and diagnosis of cancer.
In the awarded project, Dr. Elemento will develop computational methods to analyze and interpret epigenomics and chromatin interaction datasets obtained from deep sequencing. Dr. Elemento believes these computer models in conjunction with experimentation will enable him to discover and characterize the principles by which regulatory elements located far away from genes contribute to transcriptional activation, the first step leading to gene expression. The National Science Foundation award will also support additional researchers hired by Dr. Elemento for the project as well as necessary computational equipment and infrastructure. Finally, funds provided by this award will go towards organizing epigenomic data analysis workshops to teach members of the Weill Cornell community how to analyze complex epigenomic datasets.
Dr. Elemento received a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from the Paul Sabatier University in Toulouse, France; a master's degree in mechanical engineering from INSA Toulouse, one of the largest engineering schools in France, and Nottingham University in England; a master's in computer science and artificial intelligence from Dauphine University in Paris, France; and a doctorate in computational biology from CNRS/University of Montpellier in France. An author of numerous articles on epigenomics, Dr. Elemento joined Weill Cornell in 2008 as an Institute for Computational Biomedicine Institute Fellow and group leader and was promoted to assistant professor a year later.